Read Assumptions Online

Authors: C.E. Pietrowiak

Tags: #angel, #assumptions, #catholic, #chicago, #death, #emerson and quig, #ghost, #high school, #loss, #novella, #paranormal, #saint, #saint ita, #supernatural romance, #suspense, #twilight

Assumptions (2 page)

BOOK: Assumptions
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She let out a self-congratulatory sigh.
“Well, I can’t find anything else.” She zipped the bag and heaved
it on top of three others stacked near the door. “Help me carry
these down to the desk. They’ll be wanting us out soon." She
checked the clock on the nightstand. "It’s almost eleven. We better
get going.”

Will lugged two bulging duffel bags out of
the room and deposited them with a porter at the front desk. His
mother followed with the two remaining shoulder bags. She wore a
pale gold scarf tied around her waist. She dropped the bags next to
the others. “There. We’ll pick them up when it’s time to leave.
Your father is at the Albright wrapping up a few things. He’ll meet
us here around one. He has our tickets. We don’t have to be on the
sherut to Ben Gurion until two. I still want to get to the souk one
last time. I’m famished. Falafel? Shops should all be open by
now.”

“Sure.” Will grinned wide.

"What? Oh, sorry. Thinking out loud again, am
I?"

"At record speed, I think.”

His mother elbowed him in the ribs.

She covered her hair loosely with the scarf
and they headed out of the hotel lobby, walking along King David
Street in the already intense heat. In the distance, church bells
chimed the hour.

They skirted along the wall of the Old City
to Damascus Gate where they passed through the deep rampart into
the mouth of the souk, humming with shoppers and gape-mouthed
tourists and sandal-clad students on holiday.

Will and his mother weaved through the Arab
Quarter along cobblestone streets worn smooth by centuries of foot
traffic. They passed stalls blaring Arab pop and walls full of
leather shoes, stacks of dusty carpets and spice shops with bins
overflowing with pungent gold powders and leafy greens, finally
stopping at a hole-in-the-wall no one in the States would confuse
with a restaurant. Will's mother squeezed through the narrow
doorway. A few minutes later she came out carrying two falafel
sandwiches, tahini oozing over the top of the pita. They ate
standing until the lone cafe table freed up. They sat and shared
the rest of their meal in easy silence.

Church bells rang. Will's mother pushed back
her chair. “Oh no, noon already?" She stood and adjusted her scarf.
"I have a shopkeeper to see. I won’t be long. Can you head back to
the hotel in case your father is early?”

“Can’t I come with you?” Will stuffed the
last bite of pita into his mouth.

“Sorry, Habibi. Not today.”

Will's face dropped. His mother brushed a
stray lock of hair away from his eyes. "You need a haircut." She
beamed at him, then, without another word, left him to his chewing.
He swallowed hard.

“See you,” he called after her as she
vanished into the convoluted streets of the Old City.

Will wiped his mouth with a scratchy napkin,
cleaned up their crumbs, and walked west toward Jaffa Gate, the Old
City's exit nearest their hotel. He wandered along the Via Dolorosa
past shops selling rough-hewn olive wood crosses and antiqued icons
of the Virgin cradling her holy child. He ducked down a narrow
alley, pausing at the courtyard of the Church of Holy Sepulchre. A
woman holding a red plastic carnation above her head pointed out
the immovable ladder to a group of camera wielding seniors. Will
crossed himself nonchalantly and continued on his way.

He rounded a corner into Butcher’s Alley,
dodging plump women going about their daily shopping, careful to
step over the rivulets of bloody runoff in the street. Will inhaled
the earthiness of the freshly dead. In one of the shops, a boy
struggled to unhook a goat, skinned and hung eye-level by its
white-pink ankles. “Yella!” the butcher shouted, hurrying the boy
along.

The street spilled out into a sunny courtyard
at the foot of the Citadel near Jaffa Gate. A pair of white-bearded
men sat together at a table outside of a sweet shop, talking with
their hands and sipping Arab coffee from tiny cups. The man in the
shop slid a fresh tray of pastries into the bakery case. Will went
inside.

He pointed at the glazed triangles, golden
and shiny. The man handed him a piece of baklava. “Shukran,” said
Will, thanking him in one of the few Arabic words he knew. His
mother had probably been right when she told him he should have
learned to speak the language, but what little he understood kept
him out of trouble and his belly full and that was all he really
needed.

Will handed the man some coins and stepped
out onto the street. He devoured his sweet in two bites and sucked
the honey off his fingers. He watched the chatting men for a
moment. He sighed and walked through Jaffa Gate back into the world
beyond the walls.

Will greeted his father in the hotel lobby.
He had arrived early, just as his mother anticipated. William
Emerson, Sr. was tall, but otherwise looked nothing like his son.
Clad in khaki head to toe, his hair and eyes were fair and his
features unremarkable. Except for his grubby fedora, which would be
put away when they arrived home, he could be anyone born and bred
in the heartland of America.

They sat in the lobby, lounging in deep
leather chairs, comparing the newest scars on their knuckles. They
sipped icy Cokes and re-lived the high points of the dig just
ended.

“I’m looking forward to being home,” Emerson
Sr. confided.

“Me, too.” Will ran his fingertips along the
supple arm of the chair and sipped his cold drink.

Two o’clock. Safa Emerson did not return.

The sherut came and went. The authorities
came and stayed.

They listened to Will recount every minute of
his day. He told them about the packing, about the souk, the
tahini, and about the shopkeeper his mother had mentioned. They
showed him the gold scarf, dirty and torn, stuffed into a too small
plastic zipper bag.

“Are you sure your mother didn’t tell you the
name of the shop? What about the street? ” the authorities
prodded.

“I’m sure. I wanted to go with her. She
wouldn’t let me," Will insisted over and over. "I wanted to
go.”

The hotel staff took the duffel bags back to
the room his mother had cleared that morning. Clean towels had been
stacked on the corner of the freshly made bed and a rollaway
wheeled in, still folded up near the door. Will and his father
stayed two weeks longer. Will repeated his story to the
authorities, to his grandparents in Florida by phone in the middle
of the night, but most of all to his father, until their flight
landed at O’Hare and not another word was said.

 

The shrill whistle of an overdue train urged
would-be passengers away from the tracks as it sped past the
station, making it clear the wait would not be short. Will pushed
through the stiff turnstile at the el station and climbed the
stairs to the overcrowded platform above, thick with grumbling
passengers pulling out phones and checking the time. Will weaved
through the disgruntled to the end of the platform to where, he
estimated, the leading car's doors would open. He settled among the
waiting.

Slowly, Will lifted one foot then the other,
gauging the stickiness, filling a few minutes idly guessing the
substance that might have spilled, trying not to think too far
beyond mocha or cola.

Will searched the annoyed faces around him.
Three black overcoats and a Northwestern sweatshirt away, he found
her. A middle-aged woman stood at the edge of the platform. She
didn't check her email or fuss with her designer coat. Her arms
were tightly crossed, fingernails digging into her sleeves. She
stared at the brick building at the far side of the tracks. Tears
dribbled over her face, washing thin stripes of perfect makeup down
her cheeks. A stray drop fell onto the dry wood of the platform
where it disappeared into the grime. The overcoats and sweatshirt
paid no attention.

Will warmed his hands in his coat pockets. A
couple yards down, a fat man pressed his lips together so hard they
vanished, his mouth a numb line. Two more overcoats down, a college
kid, brows furrowed, counted nervously on his fingers.

Will studied these faces, witness to the
glazed stares and the little shudders, witness to the sorrow and
the guilt and the anger.

The train arrived with a whoosh. A man's
recorded voice confidently announced, "This is Bryn Mawr. Next
stop, Berwyn." The doors slid apart and the restless passengers
piled in, standing room only.

The train clattered along on uneven
tracks.

"Next stop, Belmont. Doors open on the
right."

The train stopped alongside the west
platform. The doors opened. Will elbowed his way out. The train
left the station. He found a place clear of people and turned his
backpack side up. He unzipped a small pocket, pulled out his
Eastview ID, and jammed it deep into his coat pocket. He headed
toward the exit.

A girl, about his age, waited for a
northbound train on the opposite platform, only slightly less
crowded than the one Will left earlier. A dainty silver watch
dangled undisturbed at her wrist. Her hair was tucked into a white
cable-knit hat except for one long dark curl that fell in a
delicate ribbon against her porcelain neck.

Will looked at her longer than anyone should
ever look at any other person on an el platform. Her deep blue eyes
caught Will. The corner of her mouth lifted. Will snapped his eyes
to the orange and pink of the Dunkin' Donuts sign half a block
down. A train whistled in the distance.

Will glanced across the tracks again. She
still held him safely in her gaze. He did not look away.

The northbound train rattled into the station
on a center track. Will strained to see the girl through the gaps
between the cars.

"This is Belmont,” the same voice announced
from the other train. “Next stop, Addison."

The blue-eyed girl forced her way through the
overcrowded el car. She smiled at Will through a window, her breath
forming a soft cloud on the glass.

The train lurched and started to rattle away.
Its cars, wrapped in ads for Hills Bros. and IKEA, alternated red,
white, blue, yellow, ending with the bare stainless steel of the
last car. Will jogged down the platform, following the train until
the screech of the third rail was swallowed by the noise of the
restless street below.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR: SERENDIPITY SMILES

 

A pale Halloween sun clung to the Lake
Michigan horizon. It broke through the morning clouds, bright and
promising a perfect fall day, crisp and clear. The morning light
glistened on a new glass and steel mid-rise, an icy cube wedged
between its more robust North Michigan Avenue neighbors. A limp
crimson ribbon hung from one of the chrome door pulls at the main
entrance. Above, a media façade stretched up three full stories of
mostly black. At the top edge, the slender fingertips of a young
woman peeled down one of the corners, revealing only her jade-green
eyes. Three words in ember-white scrawl cut across the bottom.
Welcome home, Serendipity
.

In front of the building, a stage, set with a
drum kit, an ebony Steinway, and a crumbling stone arch swathed in
billowy black silk, consumed three-quarters of the wide sidewalk.
Red-eyed devils and tattered undead held vigil on the remaining
sliver of concrete.

A young boy wearing shredded jeans and a
prosthetic gash across his cheek planted himself near the center of
the throng, his nose buried in the awards edition of the gamer
magazine, Veil. The jade-green eyes peered from the cover. A
Sharpie hooked to the top edge hung down between them.

The boy’s father, knobby demon horns mounted
to either side of his forehead, shifted his weight from one tender
foot to the other. Gratefully, he nursed a non-fat latte, courtesy
of the nearby coffee house and the last five bucks in his pocket.
He amused himself by eavesdropping the snippets of conversation
that managed to rise above the hum of the crowd.

“Hey, Dad,” interrupted the boy, not
bothering to look up to see whether anyone was listening, “this
article says M.L. Quig totally wins “Developer of the Year” and
Serendipity Returns wins “Game of the Year.” It’s not even out ‘til
next week! I can’t wait to play! M.L. is supposed to be here!”

A line four wide snaked along the building,
undulating against a thin yellow cord, until it disappeared around
the corner at the far end of the block. The remains of an impromptu
campsite poked, haphazard and jagged, out of a dumpster roughly
marked in spray painted block letters:
Mayor’s Office of Special
Events – Please do your part to keep Chicago clean
.

Hundreds of jack-o-lanterns, lit the night
before, lined the curb facing the street, now slumping and mostly
toothless, grinning mercilessly at everyone outside the rope.

Across the broad street, the crowd of
unfortunates without the numbered wristbands, snapped up a week
earlier within an hour, packed themselves onto the sidewalk,
resigned to experience the pandemonium from a distance. Police
officers on horseback stationed themselves at short intervals along
the roadway, shepherding too-eager onlookers off the street and
back into the fray.

An un-costumed young man, face mostly
obscured by a faded black hoodie, stood perfectly still amid the
chaos, hands in the front pockets of his threadbare jeans. He
surveyed nearby onlookers and smiled, satisfied. He slipped to the
back of the crowd, leaned against a storefront window, and breathed
deep, absorbing the tumult and the crush of strangers crammed
together in uncommon unity.

A pudgy, pimple-faced boy lurched back,
crashing hard into the young man.

“Sorry, man,” the boy apologized, eyes still
glued to the scene across the street. “This is so cool, isn’t it?”
His question garnered no response. He turned around expecting to
meet a silent glare, but found only his own bewildered
reflection.

BOOK: Assumptions
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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